Almost a year after declaring the opioid epidemica public health emergency, President Donald Trump on 24 October signed into law a sweeping legislative package that lawmakers and public health experts believe will help curb the growing crisis in the United States, writes Marianna Sotomayor for NBC News.
“Together we are going to end the scourge of drug addiction,” Trump said at a bill-signing ceremony at the White House. “Or at least make an extremely big dent in this terrible, terrible problem.”
Moments before signing the bill, known as the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, the president called the package the “single largest bill to combat the drug crisis in the history of our country.”
The legislative package directs funding to federal agencies and states so they can make increasing access to addiction treatment a priority, and sets in place interventions to help mitigate the crisis, like preventing overprescription and training law enforcement to intercept shipments, including the deadly and highly addictive drug fentanyl, at US borders.
The bill signing marked a years-long effort by both the legislative and executive branch to respond to the growing opioid crisis, which killed more than 48,000 Americans in 2017, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Moreover, it will be remembered as a major bipartisan feat at the end of another congressional term that many consider to be the most divisive and bitterly partisan one yet.
Democrats applauded the law as a step in the right direction, though many said the legislation did not go far enough to confront the epidemic. Some, like Republican Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, warned that Republican threats to undo Medicare and Medicaid would only increase the death rate.
“Despite touting this new law today, President Trump and Congressional Republicans continue to threaten to undermine the health care that Americans rely on for opioid treatment,” Pallone said in a statement.
“It is disingenuous at best to promise relief to people struggling with opioid addiction while also attempting to cut funding for Medicaid and eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions, which include opioid use disorder.”
Congress and the White House sat down for the first time to discuss combating the epidemic last October ahead of a number of congressional hearings by the House and the Senate on the subject.
The bipartisan approach on Capitol Hill led to a mostly hands-off but supportive process from the White House, which often tends to intervene in contentious legislative battles like health care, taxes and immigration, according to congressional sources.
One Republican congressional source familiar with the process told NBC Newsthat the administration made a priority of directing funds to discover a nonaddictive painkiller and combating over-prescription by giving patients smaller doses of opioids in “blister packs.”
“The administration was supportive, gave us very timely technical assistance and helped shape bills that were being negotiated while also giving us plenty of space to negotiate with Democrats,” another Republican Congressional aide said.
The widespread reach of the crisis, which has struck red and blue states in equal measure and devastated urban and rural communities alike, united hundreds of lawmakers to hold hearings and propose legislation that would shape the SUPPORT bill. Passing the legislation proved to be good ammunition for lawmakers campaigning for re-election in November, as candidates battled over who could provide more solutions to the crisis.Trump signs sweeping opioid bill with vow to end ‘scourge’ of drug addiction